Tech Industry

Home network tests called success

The new specification could pave the way for a future standard method for linking home PCs, peripherals, and consumer electronic devices.

In-home networking may be closer to reality than you think.

An electronic standards organization said today that it has successfully completed trials of in-home networking equipment, using a new specification that could pave the way for a future standard method for linking home PCs, peripherals, and consumer electronic devices.

The Video Electronics Standards Organization said it has tested a variety of equipment using its VESA Home Network standard. The standard, initially aimed at new homes under construction, is backed by VESA members, including Intel, Sony, Mitsubishi, Hewlett-Packard, and other industry heavyweights, and is an attempt to define a backbone for data exchange between systems. Microsoft has also played a limited role in defining the spec.

Joel DiGirolamo, chairman of VESA Home Network committee, said the proof-of-concept trial included a home network comprised of Mitsubishi video receivers, a Sony digital camcorder, and several PCs. The trial involved sending video streams from a server to a home network using the IEEE 1394 interface, an Ethernet network, and an ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) gateway using IP (Internet protocol).

A goal of the standard is to allow systems to interoperate, so that consumers can network electronic devices, DiGirolamo said. "So from work at 10:00 in the morning, you can set up your home VCR to tape a show at 3:00 in the afternoon. Or, you get a ring on your PC at work, and it's your front door, and you see through a video camera that it's your friend Bob and you let him into the house from your desk at work."

The standard has been under development for three years, DiGirolamo said. Consumer devices that comply with the standard should be on the market by next year, with widespread adoption by the year 2000, he predicted.

Jetson-like schemes for in-home networking are garnering a fair amount of credibility, as technology comes along to make it all work. The home is also receiving considerable attention from networking equipment companies and PC makers who are drooling over the market's potential size.

The VESA proposal is a higher cost, more labor intensive approach than other in-home concepts that use wireless technology, or existing power wiring.

One such proposal, the Home Radio Frequency Working Group, is backed by Microsoft, Intel, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM, among others. The proposal is expected to result in a specification called the Shared Wireless Access Protocol (SWAP), expected to be published as a standard by the fall of this year. Commercial products are expected to support the enhancements by the second half of next year.

Last fall, Microsoft signed a deal with Tut Systems, a small maker of networking equipment for the home, so that Windows-based PCs could be easily connected within a residence over existing wiring. Tut makes a hub device called HomeRun that creates an in-home Ethernet network.

DiGirolamo said VESA will eventually address retrofitting older homes to use the technology.